On March 17, 1966, the Legislative Council of the AHSAA approved football playoffs for the state's biggest classification (4A) and one of the biggest athletic events in state sports history had its beginning.
The playoff participants would be decided by a point system with the four top teams throughout the state playing semi finals and the winners a state championship game. The Central Board of the AHSAA instructed outgoing executive director Cliff Harper to work toward a championship program for the next lower classification. It was thought that different playoff systems might have to be in play because of the disparity of school enrollments to determine the classifications.
Here is the Montgomery Advertiser article from March 18, 1966 explaining the system. Plans also had to be made for the event of a tie game in the semis as there was no overtime in high school football in those days. If a tie occurred during the championship game it had been decided that co champions would be crowned.
There were 33 teams by enrollment placed in Class 4A for playoff purposes. A team received 10 points for a win and 5 points for a tie with a team in 4A or a 3A team that had at least six 4A opponents. Schools received four points for defeating any other 3A school and two points for a tie with any other 3A school.
Going into the last games of the year, Lee and Lanier of Montgomery were both shoe ins, playing each other in the final regular season game and both undefeated. Banks was undefeated as well, but was upset by Jones Valley. Etowah seemed to be in place for a spot with only a single loss, but was beaten by Gadsden High in the last game. Huntsville ended up as the number three team and Shades Valley slid in as the fourth qualifier.
This put #1 ranked Lanier (10-0) who had defeated Lee, playing 8-2 Shades Valley who had come from #8 to #4 in the last rankings. #2 Lee (9-1) was to play Huntsville who ended the season at 9-1. Because Lanier and Lee both got home games as the two top ranked teams and they both played their home games at Cramton Bowl, it was decided that Lanier vs Shades Valley would be played on Friday night and Lanier vs. Huntsville would be played at the bowl on Saturday night.
There were no hard and fast rules about where the games were to be held. The Central Board and new Executive Direxctor Bubba Scott met on the previous Saturday to set the playoff locations.
No one really thought that either Lee or Lanier had a chance of being defeated. The local Montgomery columnists predicted close victories for the two, but they were just trying to be nice. Lanier had defeated Lee 10-0 two weeks before and most thought they would play for the championship game.
But the excitement of actually having playoff games for the first time in Alabama was more than enough for the state's football fans.
On Friday night November 26, 1966, Lanier and their dominating defense swamped Shades Valley 47-7 in the state's first playoff game ever. Quarterback Mike Kelly threw for 188 yards and a touchdown and the Lanier defense intercepted four Mountie passes to lead the victory which put the Poets in the first ever state championship game the following week.
Here is the Montgomery Advertiser article from the game.
The following night Lee made it an all Montgomery final by beating Huntsville in impressive fashion 46-7. Quarterback Tommy Traylor threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more as Lee scored 19 first quarter points to run away from Huntsville early. The General's defense held Huntsville to 123 total offense in the win. Here is the Montgomery Advertiser's write up from the Sunday morning paper of the semi final victory for Lee.
This set up the state's first state championship game the following Friday night at Cramton Bowl. Montgomery was the mecca of high school football in the state as the city had the AHSAA's best two teams fighting for the first state title.